Linda Douty is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and teacher who lives in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the author of numerous books, including Rhythms of Growth: 365 Meditations to Nurture the Soul and Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship with God.
A Conversation with Linda Douty
1. Tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey – how you came to be a spiritual director, and exactly what a spiritual director does.
My spiritual journey has been grounded in Wesleyan theology, mostly through the United Methodist Church. Beginning as a “doing” Christian, my outer journey expanded in mid-to-later life to the inner landscape of “being.” This shift in focus to a deeper inner life was greatly enhanced by the Academy for Spiritual Formation (a program of the Upper Room), which led me to train as a spiritual director with the Shalem Institute. The ministry of spiritual direction is one of companioning others (both laity and clergy) and helping them listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through their lives. The ministry of spiritual guidance helps me more than it helps them!
2. How did you come up with the metaphors of nature and gardening for Rhythms of Growth?
I’ve always experienced nature as God’s “first Bible,” where the wonder of creation expressed the love and creativity of God well before our written scriptures were recorded. As I was touched (over and over again!) by the created order, I began to notice how the parables of Jesus repeatedly used nature as a metaphor for the spiritual life. Sowing, plowing, planting, blossoming, reaping – so many similarities to the ways our spirits are transformed! I was eager to explore those patterns more deeply in the form of daily meditations.
3. What particular places in nature restore your soul?
Almost any outdoor venue – a walk in the woods, a stroll on the beach, hiking the mountains, sitting on a river bank, staring at the wonder of a spiderweb, gazing at the cosmos – all point to a grandeur beyond our imagining. Those settings inspire and “refuel” me.
4. You have published 5 books since you turned 65. What encouragement would you offer to people who are searching for purpose in their lives after retirement? What would you say to people who are still seeking God’s dreams for them?
Dare to discover your deepest yearnings and desires, your natural gifts and proclivities, and put them in God’s hands. Then watch and pray, watch and pray – not for what you OUGHT to do, but what you authentically WANT to do, with God’s grace. I’ve become convinced that God’s dream FOR us to be loving, compassionate persons is often meshed with our own honest dreams for ourselves – the abundant life, indeed!
5. What spiritual practices nurture you most?
Without a doubt, practices that encourage LISTENING to God rather than OBEYING what we think God wants. My spiritual life was transformed when I moved away from words to silence, trusting that offering my soul to God with no strings attached would open me to true growth. As a “doer” by nature, centering prayer and silence were tough disciplines for me, but the truth is, those practices have been (and continue to be) life-changing.
6. What surprises have happened in your life in the past 5 years? How do you normally respond to surprises or interruptions in your life?
Wow. After living a settled, solo life for 18 years, I unexpectedly met the man of my dreams 3 years ago at age 72. Walter, an 80-year-old retired, widowed United Methodist minister, turned my life upside down! Living out the remainder of our lives together is a gift of joy that neither of us ever imagined. I’ve learned to greet twists and turns and surprises with a “Wow, I didn’t expect that” rather than, “Oh no, what do I do now?” Leaning into change with hope gives legs to our trust.
7. What difficulties have you had to overcome in your spiritual life? Have you ever had spiritual “dry spells”? What did you do?
Questioning long-held dogma and rigid beliefs has broadened my experience of who and what God is. For me, doubt is the cutting edge of faith. When I wrestle with big questions, I usually end up in a more authentic and grounded place. I think God welcomes our honesty, rather than our blind obedience.
Of course I’ve had dry spells! Who hasn’t? I just keep showing up for my rendezvous with God and “float” in the assurance of God’s love and presence. Sometimes it helps to talk it over with my spiritual director. Often I sample a different spiritual practice for a while to get a little boost. For instance, last year I incorporated the use of Protestant prayer beads (encouraged by Kristen Vincent’s A Bead and a Prayer), and I found that practice very enriching. In addition, I returned to a more disciplined schedule of meditation and centering prayer – that’s my mainstay. Opening oneself to God in the silence is an act of radical trust.
8. What do you look forward to in the next 5 years?
Becoming more actively involved in St. John’s United Methodist Church, enjoying my new marriage, and opening myself to whatever and wherever the Spirit leads me. I’ve found that having a “set agenda” of my own blinds me to God’s surprises!
9. What information or wisdom would you like to share with your readers?
Explore the spiritual territory of connection to God instead of belief in God. Open yourself to transformation instead of more information. Be willing to be honest about your most troubling questions. And remember that real prayer is more about relationship than results!
10. Who are your spiritual heroes/heroines? Who has contributed the most to your own spiritual nurture?
Oh, so many wonderful teachers through the years, in person and in print – Flora Wuellner, John Mogabgab, Marjorie Thompson, Father Thomas Keating, Dr. Marcus Borg – my bookshelves are bulging with “portable pastors” in the form of inspiring writings. On an ongoing basis, I’m inspired by simple folks who live their day-to-day lives with real love and compassion.